One by One by Gina Dalfonzo, Free Promo Pack for CAPC Members
Available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until September 20, 2017, from Baker Publishing Group.
Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
* * *
I still remember the disappointment I felt when I saw the Magic 8-Ball on my friend’s shelf.
He was, after all, a Christian. I knew him from class at my Lutheran elementary school. Christians don’t believe in superstition, and they certainly didn’t believe in divination. (I was an uptight kid.) But now here I was, standing in his room, having come over for a sleepover, as we twelve-year-olds were wont to do. And I didn’t want to ruin the evening. And I hate confrontation.
So, instead of voicing my concerns, I made fun. I picked it up.
“Is Michael Jackson’s nose made of plastic?” I asked, in a hushed, hallowed tone.
* * *
All this is a very roundabout way of saying: I spent $10 on a virtual cactus the other day.
I didn’t get up with “spend $10 on a virtual cactus” at the top of my to-do list. But as I was browsing Twitter that night, I noticed everyone was talking about the “Lucky Cactus.” A quick Google told me that it was an iPhone app, that everyone was buying it, and that, aside from a single article on MTV.com, the mainstream press had scarcely acknowledged it. MTV’s reaction was simple bemusement, but the reviews on iTunes all promised mountains of good fortune to all who tapped the Lucky Cactus.
I swallowed. I bit my lip. It’s not like I had any other ideas for my column this week.
Could I write this off as a business expense?
* * *
I come from something of an uptight, classically Protestant background—raised in a Presbyterian congregation where some were afraid to say the word “potluck” lest they incur wrath for doubting God’s providence (there was probably a note of irony in this, but for some more than for others) and attending a Lutheran school where my third-grade teacher said it was a sin to say “good luck” instead of “God’s blessings” (as if it wasn’t hubris to call down the blessings of God).
It was for this reason that I thought I had to save my friend from himself, and it was my general social awkwardness that convinced me mockery was the best method to do it. But when I asked the 8-Ball if Elvis was still alive and living with Bigfoot, he laughed. He thought I was being funny.
We stayed up late into the night, asking the 8-Ball stupid questions and laughing our butts off.
* * *
The cactus app took mere seconds to download, clearly indicating that my ten bucks were not going towards hours upon hours of coding. Still, when I tapped the “open” button, the “loading” screen hung on for a surprisingly long amount of time, and it was moderately unsettling to look at. A single gold eye stared out at me from a black background, calling to mind thoughts of the Illuminati that probably would have bothered me if I were the sort of person superstitious enough to believe in a lucky virtual cactus.
When it finally loaded, it was as disappointing as I had imagined. A flat, cartoony cactus that made a “squish” sound when I tapped on it, and every ten taps or so, a little icon would rise from its needles—hearts (indicating love, no doubt), dollar signs (wealth), stars (fame), and birds (…poultry?). And that was it.
I tapped it hundreds of times.
* * *
When my birthday party rolled around that year, my friend handed me a gift, and upon tearing open the paper, I was greeted with another, smaller Magic 8-Ball. “We saw how much you loved our Magic 8-Ball,” his mom told me. “Now you have your own!”
This one was a keyring. I bit my tongue and put my house key on it and carried it with me for years—well into high school, long after the friendship that had given it to me had dissipated. Every time I drew it from my pocket, both friends and acquaintances would come running, clamoring to ask the 8-Ball a question.
To my knowledge, neither I nor my friends ever believed the 8-Ball’s answers to be anything other than random. Asking it questions held as much meaning to us as bouncing a rubber ball against a wall—which was good because both were equally good at predicting the future.
* * *
I first tapped the cactus early in the morning and continued tapping all day long, watching out for whatever “luck” might come my way; mind you, I’m a stay-at-home dad by trade, so my days tend to be pretty blasé. My toddler got up super-early and spent the morning on a three-hour temper tantrum (so, bad luck); on the other hand, she took a three-hour nap afterwards, allowing me to clean the whole house (good luck). The mashed potatoes I cooked for dinner came out particularly good; the chicken was a little underdone.
On the other hand, my two-month-old baby skipped her nightly three-hour screaming session, which I really can’t explain.
That said, though, the one thing I really want—to find an agent to sell my awesome novel, which incidentally will require mountains of luck—went nowhere. Actually, two agents sent me rejection notices that day.
So, clearly, the cactus is silly.
* * *
My 8-Ball keychain was silly as well, and for more than one reason. It was actually intensely uncomfortable to carry something the size and shape of a golfball in my pocket all day, and frankly, the downsizing of the 8-Ball left it borderline unusable. The dodecahedron that contained the ball’s answers on its 20 faces was too big to move freely inside the ball, which meant that you got a corner or an air bubble as frequently as you did an actual answer. Eventually, I discarded it in favor of a more practical and less prophetic keychain.
I imagine this overpriced cactus app will soon head in the same direction.
And it’s not because I feel threatened by it—but only because when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. I now see that superstition was never a serious threat to my faith, any more than fear of superstition was. Magic is powerless, either to predict the future or control it—at best a child tugging on his Father’s pant leg when all He has is already mine. The world may indeed be ruled by a Magic, but it is a Magic far more wild and dangerous than any talisman could ever contain.
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